James is a red mixed-traffic L&YR Class 28 engine who can sometimes be vain and boastful. All the same, he means well and is a hard worker.
According to The Adventure Begins, James arrived on Sodor some time after Gordon, at which time he was painted black. His wooden brakes were prone to catching fire and he had trouble stopping quickly; if anyone noticed a burning smell from his brakes, he would deny smelling anything out of the ordinary. James originally owned Annie and Clarabel, and believed The Fat Controller would soon give him his own branch line. James acted as a bully towards Thomas when the tank engine first arrived, but soon after gained some respect for him. They became close friends following James' accident. Some Troublesome Trucks made his wooden brakes catch fire, prompting Thomas to chase after him. James' guard attempted to couple Thomas to the back of the train to slow James down, but as this failed, James could not stop and came off the rails at a bend, scratching his paintwork and destroying most of his trucks. Thomas fetched Jerome and Judy, who lifted James back onto the rails. Thomas then took James to the Steamworks for repairs. When James returned as a splendid red engine, Thomas and Edward did not recognise him. Upon declaring he was ready for his coaches, James realised that his coaches were now Thomas', and the little tank engine now had his own branch line.
James has had several mishaps, most of them caused by his pride of his paintwork. While using Toad as a brakevan on a mainline goods train, he refused to slow down. When a coupler snapped, his train rolled down Gordon's Hill uncontrollably. Toad was able to stop the train before colliding with Thomas, who was pulling a special train with Sir Topham Hatt and his mother. Another incident occurred during a flood in the winter, when James and Rocky inadvertently knocked down a signal. When they stopped to rescue Duck from a flooded track, Oliver was unaware that the track was occupied. He saw them at the last minute, but it was too late to avoid a collision. Immediately afterwards, Percy came around the bend and ran into Oliver. James owned up to Sir Topham Hatt, admitting he should have waited for Rocky to be secured properly before leaving.
In Tale of the Brave, James teases Percy for being afraid of monsters. One night, he gets asked to pull The Flying Kippersince Henry is on the mainland. As he is pulling the train, he hears a voice saying hello to him. It is Gator, but James cannot see his face in the dark. James gets scared by his unusual shape and races away, and ends up derailing at the Fenland track. The other engines tease him about his accident, so James decides to play a trick on Percy so he will be teased instead. That night, when Percy is taking the mail, James uses the scrap monster to scare Percy. The next day, he tries to apologise to Percy, but Percy will not forgive him. The two engines later meet at the Clay Pits, and James decides to show Percy how brave he can be. He puffs into the pits looking for the monster, not noticing his whistle is shaking the cliffs. He sees a dinosaur skeleton sticking out of the cliff wall, and races backward as fast as he can. But his whistling has started a landslide, so Percy pushes him forward and they race to safety. Once Percy has been repaired, James apologises for teasing him.
In the nineteenth season, he and Gordon had heard about "Geoffrey". Later, James and Thomas were to work together to take football fans to and from Dryaw. However, the two ended up causing trouble because they were trying to see whether reds or blues were the best. James later came off the rails near a stone bridge and Philip rescued him by positioning himself underneath James.
In Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, James teased Thomas for not waking up after having raced against Bertie and Henry for thinking he saw a ghostly sailboat before Salty told him, along with Edward and Henry, about a "lost pirate".
In the twentieth season, he became so conceited that his coaches were taken away. This put him in such a bad mood that he was left in the sheds until he was given a second chance. But his job of carrying waste trucks returned him into his grumpy mood. After being reprimanded, he changed his attitude, but it was not too long until he returned back to his old self again. Later, James was very excited to take the Fat Controller and the Mayor to Callan Castle for a special night. He was first doing his jobs all day long which turned out to be dusty, sticky and dirty. He then went to the Washdown and noticed a tiny scratch on his paintwork, so James went to the Steamworks to be repainted. However, James quickly left without letting his paint dry in time and when he made his way to pick up the Fat Controller and the Mayor, leaves stuck all over him. Embarrassed, James told Edward to take the Fat Controller and the Mayor to Callan Castle. The Fat Controller explained that James should have ignored the scratch to finish his special job whilst Edward vouched for James that he was working hard all day. James returned to the Steamworks to be repainted again and to let it dry. The Mayor told James he could take him to Vicarstown that night, to which James was very proud to do.
In The Great Race, James was one of the engines who laughed at Thomas for thinking the latter would be taken to The Great Railway Show. James would later be part of the show, competing in the Best Decorated Engine Parade alongside Emily.
In Journey Beyond Sodor, James was asked to take a goods train to the mainland in place of Henry, who had had an accident. However, Thomas sneaked off with the trucks instead, leaving James to run his branch line. When Thomas failed to return, James became fed up with running the branch line and went looking for him. However, he was tricked into going to the Steelworks with Hurricane and Frankie. James had decided to do one job there before leaving, but Thomas managed to find him and explained to him that Hurricane and Frankie will not let him leave, encouraging him to leave now. After making amends with Hurricane and Frankie and arranging for the experimental engines to work at the Steelworks, Thomas and James returned to Sodor.
In the twenty-first season, James was amongst many of the other engines who were confused about what jobs Dowager Hatt wanted them to do. He shows a new coach named Hannah that going too fast for a small coach like herself isn't wise. Later, Thomas reminded him about how he had wooden brakes and also about Rosie having been repainted to her red livery. He and Rosie had a race, each with a goods train to Crovan's Gate until he nearly collided with Henry, Rosie tells him that he needs to get his brakes fixed at the Steamworks. After he left the Steamworks with no checkup, he didn't know his brakes were leaking until he sped down Gordon's Hill unable to stop until he crashed through the back of Tidmouth Sheds. The Fat Controller scolds James for showing off, rushing around, ruining the sheds and not checking his brakes, so James has to be sent to the Steamworks to be mended and apologised to Rosie.
James is very proud of his splendid red paintwork. He hates pulling trucks, and believes that he should only pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the others, and can be shallow, boastful, naughty, and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow, or dirty. This has caused him to have somewhat of a rivalry with Toby. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself in need of help from those whom he has insulted and is, in the end, apologetic.
James was the last engine to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, after stalling on a cold day, he was rescued bythe Works Diesel, and James had to admit that nothing was wrong with diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.
Despite everything else, James has shown a caring side, is normally hard-working, and like everybody else, wants to be a responsible, reliable and really useful engine on Sir Topham Hatt's railway.
In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, it is stated that James is based on a Class 28 locomotive from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Works, itself a development of the Class 27. The Class 28 engines were designed by George Hughes, and had Belpaire fireboxes, a Schmidt superheater, and an extended footplate and sandbox.
Sodor "historian" Martin Clutterbuck has pointed out that James strongly resembles an G&SWR "Austrian Goods" 2-6-0 from the Glasgow and South Western Railway, but with the addition of a Belpaire firebox. At any rate, the Reverend W. Awdry used an engine of this class to represent James on his model railway. It is possible that he rejected this prototype for James' official "biography" on the grounds that an English locomotive would be more likely to end up on Sodor.
James was originally painted in L&YR's mixed traffic black with red lining before his accident and was given his red coat with yellow stripes and black lining to cheer him up. Sometime during the 1960s, James' black lining was repainted blue and gold. James has the number "5" painted in bright yellow with a blue border on his tender sides.
In the television series, James has always been painted NWR red with gold stripes and black lining, with three exceptions: in the tenth season episode The Green Controller, when he was painted yellow and black, like a bumblebee, on Percy's orders. Then, in the thirteenth season episode, Tickled Pink, James was painted in a pink undercoat. Though he was painted red in his official debut episode, he was painted in his black livery from the Railway Series in The Adventure Begins and had lining on the back of his tender. This disappeared when he was given his red livery.
In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
The Mid-Hants Railway repainted a Southern Railway N Class 2-6-0, No. 31874, into the livery of James. The engine retained this colour scheme for many years, and participated in the Railway Series Golden Jubilee celebrations at the National Railway Museum. However, following the withdrawal of the N Class in 1998, the Mid-Hants Railway quickly repainted its cousin-engine, a Southern Railway U Class 2-6-0, No. 31625, into James for the 1999 season. After the withdrawal of the U Class, the N Class reprised its role as James, only wearing a face during Thomas events. However, due to the fact that both of these engines were privately owned, they left the Mid-Hants Railway in 2014. For the Mid-Hants Railway's "Steam Railway" supported gala in September 2012, it was decided to repaint N Class No. 31874 in wartime black to carry its Southern identity No. 1874; this means that James will no longer appear at the Thomas events at the Watercress Line.
However, the repainting of the engine created a stir among railway enthusiasts, who felt that it was wrong to paint a historic main line locomotive in such a garish livery. Nevertheless, the locomotive was popular with the railway's younger visitors.
On the East Lancashire Railway, the unrestored LMS 2MT 2-6-0 No. 46428 has been painted as James, although his face only appears during Day Out with Thomas events.
James on the Big Screen
James was voiced by Susan Roman in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. In the movie, James was present when Diesel 10 first arrived at Tidmouth Sheds. He was also at the Smelter's Yard when Diesel 10 arrived with Junior. He almost got thrown into the smelting pit by Diesel 10, but luckily Junior used his gold dust to teleport them to a spot near the magic buffers, where Mr. Conductor was waiting.
- Keith Wickham (UK; Hero of the Rails - The Great Race, excluding Tit for Tat)
- Kerry Shale (US; Hero of the Rails - eighteenth season)
- Rob Rackstraw (US; The Adventure Begins onwards, UK; Tit for Tat onwards, excluding The Great Race)
- Mario Castañeda (Latin America; Hero of the Rails onwards)
- In the My First Thomas books and toys, James' wheels are red instead of black. Just the My First Thomas toys of James have a black bufferbeam/footplate instead of his usual red one.
- A large-scale working replica of James, along with replicas of Thomas, Percy, Harold, and Jack, was created by BBC Visual Effects for a tour in 2003. The battery powered locomotive is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.
- In Toby's New Whistle, James revealed that he once had a three-chimed whistle.
- Michael Angelis originally voiced James in Thomas and the Magic Railroad, but he was cut from the movie and was replaced by Susan Roman.
- James has undergone numerous modifications through the television series, including:
- Season 12:
- His signature crow's feet disappeared.
- Hero of the Rails:
- He increased in size, making the top of his boiler the same height as Gordon's. His cab, funnel, and tender were also scaled up accordingly.
- His cab roof became rounder and his front cab windows become slightly smaller.
- His signature crow's feet reappeared.
- Season 17:
- He gained lamps on his front and tender, as requested by Sam Wilkinson.
- The Adventure Begins:
- External brake shoes with wooden blocks were added on his rear driving wheels. Following his accident, he still had his brake shoes, but the wood blocks were replaced.
- His brake pipe now faces upwards again.
- His side rods become silver.
- Season 12:
- In the Railway Series and television series combined, James has been painted more colours than any other engine.
- In A Shed for Edward, it's shown that James is a very deep sleeper.
- One of James' models is currently on display in Japan at the Hara Railway Museum (previously on display at Nitrogen Studios). Another model was sold to an unknown buyer.
- In an interview with SiF, Andrew Brenner stated James was one of his favourite characters, along with Toby, Bill, and Ben.
- In the Annual Story Donald's Duck, James was incorrectly depicted as an LMS Fowler 4F 0-6-0.
- In the book Thomas' Christmas Party, James in one picture was incorrectly depicted as a 4-4-0.
- Nathan Clarke did an audio sample for James on his DAA Management Page.
- James whistle is a low G and middle D flat chime.
- ERTL (normal, metallic, and Gold Rail; discontinued)
- Wooden Railway (several versions, some discontinued)
- Take Along (discontinued normal, metallic, Buzz Buzz, and lights and sounds)
- My First Thomas (normal, talking, and interactive)
- Motor Road and Rail (normal, talking, and "Busy Bee" livery; discontinued outside Asia)
- TOMY Pullbacks
- TrackMaster (normal, greatest moments, talking, flip face, RC, and "Busy Bee" livery)
- Bachmann (HO and large scale)
- Lionel Trains (G scale (discontinued) and O gauge)
- Tomix Trains
- My Thomas Story Library (discontinued)
- Thomas Engine Collection Series (discontinued)
- Mini Die Cast Collection (normal and with Santa hat; discontinued)
- Departing Now (discontinued)
- Thomas Town (discontinued)
- Capsule Collection
- Take-n-Play (normal, talking, and pull back)
- De Agostini (discontinued)
- Trading Cards
- Woody Capsule Series
- Capsule Plarail (normal, metallic, Buzz Buzz, bee livery, and football team colours)
- Pocket Fantasy (discontinued)
- Brio (discontinued)
- Wedgewood China Merchandise (money box)
- LEGO (discontinued)
- Mega Bloks (discontinued)
- Around Town with Thomas
- Discover Junction
- Collectible Railway
- Motorized Railway
- Push Along
- Thomas Aquadraw
- Pullback Racers
- Micro Rubber Engines
- Pico Pico
- Boss (normal, with yellow express coach; Busy Bee, with Fuel Tanker; pull back; discontinued)
- Limited Edition Collection
- Interactive Learning Railway
- Minis (classic, metallic, dino, neon, advent calendar, warriors, graffiti and DC super friends; Core Moments: Bumble Bee)
- Rail Rollers
- Bath Toys
- MV Sports (with station; discontinued)
- Pre-Cut Model Engine Books (discontinued; re-released; re-discontinued)
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